Saturday, May 9, 2009

THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION COVENANT: Where Do We Go from Here?

Initial Reflections

Thanks to the marvels of global communications, I was able to follow the so-called deliberations, a.k.a., manipulations, of the final session of the Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica. As part of the flood of commentary following this “historic” session in the afternoon of 8 May 2009, I offer here a few initial reflections.

The Hope of the Ridley Cambridge Draft

As close observers of the Anglican scene may know, I have been a supporter of the idea of an Anglican Communion Covenant since it was raised as a part of the solution of the crisis in Anglicanism caused by the brazen violation by the Episcopal Church USA of biblical, traditional and ecclesiastical norms (especially Lambeth Resolution 1.10). I offered critiques of the early drafts produced by the Covenant Drafting Group, and finally an “Appreciation of the Ridley Cambridge Draft” (RCD). All of these essays can be found at http://www.stephenswitness.com/.

Here is the quick summary of my qualified appreciation (two cheers!) of RCD:

So why two cheers for the Ridley Cambridge Draft? In my previous critique I concluded:

"In my view, the two essential ingredients of an effective Anglican Covenant involve doctrinal substance and disciplinary efficacy. The Nassau and St. Andrews drafts in my opinion are adequate on matters of doctrine and inadequate on discipline, and both fail to deal with the current context of radical departure from the faith once for all delivered to the saints."

My first cheer then is for the doctrinal substance of the Cambridge Ridley Draft. It is orthodox and consistent in the main with the “providential ordering of Anglican history and mission.” While I might wish to express the essence of Anglican Christianity somewhat differently, I do not find myself wincing at glaring deviations from the faith once for all delivered to the saints such as one finds routinely in the speeches and writings emanating from The Episcopal Church. My second “50/50” cheer is for setting forth constitutional principles that might lead to the ultimate reform of the Communion and discipline of those who have thrown it into confusion. Whether the Covenant, as currently proposed, will lead to such a reform is contingent on many twists and turns of ecclesiastical politics, including the response of the GAFCON churches and the willingness of the Instruments, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, to allow certain churches to self-select themselves out of the Covenant and ultimately the Communion. For let it be clearly stated, there is no future for a vibrant and coherent Anglican and Christian body that includes The Episcopal Church (TEC) and Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) as they now exist.

I proceeded in this essay to argue that there were wide areas of agreement between the RCD and the Jerusalem Declaration of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Although I had no direct line to the decision-makers in Jamaica, I did try to persuade the GAFCON leaders to support the Covenant. In particular, I was asked by the Archbishop of Uganda to convene a group of scholars from the Church of Uganda to reconsider the RCD. This group of colleagues read my Appreciation and composed an instruction to the COU delegates, with this clinching paragraph:

The above concerns notwithstanding, we strongly recommend that the Church of Uganda signs up to the Ridley Cambridge Draft Anglican Covenant. The fundamental issues of doctrine and Authority of Scripture as the word of God have been appropriately addressed. The concerns mentioned in 1-4 above can be addressed with time given that there is a provision for amending the Covenant.

So the Church of Uganda, the second largest Province of the Anglican Communion, was fully supportive of the latest Covenant Draft and indeed voted consistently for it in the crucial showdown votes (I shall comment on its reduced representation below). The other GAFCON Provinces stood as part of the Global South coalition to vote for it. Still, it failed.

The Anglican Communion Covenant is Dead

So I cannot but conclude that the Anglican Communion Covenant is dead. Those who have not followed the “process” of drafting the Covenant may ask if this is not an extreme or premature diagnosis. Perhaps, but I think not.

The key section that gave hope to orthodox people in the Communion was section 4, the disciplinary section. On one of the blog discussions on the RCD, I stated:

My own preference, as I have said elsewhere, would have been for a transparent process of discipline, like that proposed in “To Mend the Net,” whereby a province could as a last resort be excommunicated.

Excommunication, in my view, is the biblical, historical and reasonable way for the church to exercise discipline when faced with obdurate heretics. Although the RCD did not have such a clear-cut provision, it had the makings of one. I argued that

the key disciplinary clause in RCD [4.2.5] goes significantly beyond the vague language in the St. Andrew’s Draft (3.2.5e), which states that offensive actions by a covenanting Church might lead to the “relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.”

Furthermore, I noted that section 4.1.5 of the Draft opens the Covenant for adoption by “churches” beyond formal provincial jurisdictions and their possible recognition by the Instruments of Communion. Although this provision was hedged around with caveats and further hedged about in the Resolution before the ACC in Jamaica, the fact remains that this clause bears within it the seed of reform. In other words, those who would come together in the Covenant could differentiate themselves from those who have defied biblical authority and begin a process that could lead to a restructuring of the Communion based on Covenant principles. What we saw in Jamaica on 8 May was the triumph of raw political power over the principles of an effective Covenant.

So my immediate conclusion is that the Anglican Communion Covenant is dead. More precisely, it has been etherized while one of the Instruments performs surgery on its vital parts. Surely the section 4 that comes out of Canterbury’s new privy council (we have such wonderful models – the Panel of Reference, episcopal visitors, indaba groups) will lack section 4.1.5 and anything that might lead to a change in the way the Communion is currently run. Our Lord said: “For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men (Matthew 19:12). The Covenant is to be numbered among the latter.

Perfidious Albion

That moment when Rowan Williams bestirred himself to suggest that there might be a majority opposed to passing the Ridley Text as presented will be remembered as a decisive moment of fulfillment of his prediction of the collapse of the Anglican Communion as we have known it.

That moment was prepared for by four weeks of silence from Lambeth Palace about the final Covenant Draft. Is there any question that the Covenant would have passed easily if Rowan Williams had used his bully pulpit, had campaigned with verve, had exercised his vaunted intellectual powers on its behalf? Some conservatives prior to that moment had taken heart from the impression that Canterbury was going to back the Covenant all the way. Even into the final session, they may have hoped that his “opposition” to the resolution excising section 4 from the Covenant altogether would be enough to pass it:

ABC: I'm not persuaded that I can support this resolution as it stands. I'm not sure that remitting this will get us forward. I appreciate the points that have been made so far and that provinces may not feel able to sign up if section 4 is in there. I'm not persuaded to agree to this resolution.

But at the end of the day, Rowan Williams failed to lead, or more likely, chose to lead the Communion into pandemonium.

Perfidious Albion! The Covenant was his baby. Why did he kill it in the cradle? Why did he betray the Archbishop of the West Indies and the Archbishop of Southeast Asia? I was present in Kigali in September 2006 when the Global South Primates were moving forward with their own Covenant Draft. This movement was short-circuited by the announcement that Canterbury had appointed Drexel Gomez Chair of the Covenant Drafting Group. Those who follow Communion politics immediately smelled a rat. One standard ploy of the Communion bureaucracy is to appoint a nominally conservative bishop to a committee “balanced” by and administered by liberals.

But this time it did not work out that way. Drexel Gomez, who had authored “To Mend the Net,” had a passion for the catholicity of the Church and the potential of the Covenant to restore it. He was joined by Archbishop John Chew, no pushover, and by Dr. Ephraim Radner, with his intellectual clout. Despite numerous attempts to neuter the Covenant by various indaba sessions and a blizzard of suggestions from the revisionist community, the final Draft actually stood for something. Having promised the Primates all the way back to October 2003 that help was on the way, Rowan Williams faced a dilemma: what to do about his own solution, the Covenant?

Here another factor comes into play: Williams’s centralizing of power in one Instrument, himself! This gathering of power to himself began by his repudiation of the Dar es Salaam Primates’ meeting, by various attempts to put the Primates in their place, by treating the GAFCON movement as if it did not exist, and by turning to the more manipulable ACC and JSC as his councils of choice. The final act of aggrandizement has now come with referral of the Covenant to a totally unauthorized “small group” who will report to another non-Instrument, the Joint Standing Committee of Primates and ACC.

I am not interested, frankly, in analyzing further Rowan Williams’s motives beyond what I wrote three years ago in a piece titled, “Look Not to Cantuar” (http://www.globalsouthanglican.org/index.php/weblog/printing/look_not_to_cantuar/). Earlier this year, I documented his perfidy after the Dar meeting in an address on “The Decline and Fall (and Rising Again) of the Anglican Communion.” I had hoped against hope that he would come through for the historic faith of the Church. That hope has proved vain.

I imagine this reality poses a dilemma for those who have faithfully supported Archbishop Williams over the past six years. Those who believe that loyalty is owed to “Canterbury” as an historic see, not a person, will have to take a very long view of the Anglican future, and many may decide that there are sees more historic than that founded by Augustine in 597. For others like myself and those who signed the GAFCON statement, Canterbury can no longer be a realistic focus for our Anglican identity.

A Tale of Two Archbishops

This brings me to two towering figures in the Communion today. One of them is literally towering – the Archbishop of Uganda; the other is diminutive in stature but towering in patient integrity – the President Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. One of these figures was notable by his absence from the Jamaica meeting; the other was notable for his presence and passionate advocacy of the Covenant as presented.

These two Archbishops had made something of a splash two years ago at the New Orleans House of Bishops Meeting of the Episcopal Church. Henry Orombi had refused to go at the beck and call of Rowan Williams after the Primates had delivered an ultimatum to TEC; Mouneer Anis had gone and delivered a brave and prophetic speech. On that occasion, I thought Archbishop Orombi had the better case for conscientious absence, but I could not help but admire the courage of Archbishop Mouneer.

The Jamaica ACC meeting was different. Archbishop Orombi was the duly elected representative from Africa on the Joint Standing Committee. His own delegation was reduced by the absence of one bishop and one priest, and the alternate to the latter, the Rev. Phil Ashey, was cynically unseated by the JSC. The politician in me was disappointed by Henry Orombi’s choice to preach at a renewal conference in UK rather than to attend this important meeting. Maybe if he had been in Jamaica, we would have gotten the three votes needed to pass the Covenant. But on the other hand, his decision may reflect the utter breakdown of trust between many bishops in the Communion and Canterbury and the Communion bureaucracy. Who is to say the establishment would not have found a way to scuttle the Covenant even with Abp. Orombi present?

The real danger and promise from the tale of these two bishops hinges on whether this “defeat” of the Covenant will lead to a fresh wounding or to a healing of the Global South movement, which was cynically riven by the “divide and conquer” tactics of the powers that be in London and New York. There is now the potential for reassembling that movement, and Archbishops Mouneer and Orombi will be two key figures in it. Pray, brothers and sisters, for the unity of those who hold the common faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Long Live the Covenant!

The Anglican Communion Covenant is dead. No doubt the Communion Office will spew forth a fog of words “explaining” yesterday’s action as a temporary hiccup in the “process.” To which my response is: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Even though I favored a Covenant that could be approved by the old Instruments and carry maximum support around the Communion, I feared that even if it were passed, it would become ensnared in the usual politics which have been so manifest since Lambeth 1998. So there is a virtue in getting out from under the existing framework.

I had urged in an earlier essay that the Covenant Drafting Group meet with the leaders of the GAFCON movement to see if they could combine the best of the Draft and the Jerusalem Declaration. There is now a possibility of this happening independent of the machinations of the colonial establishment. There is a possibility that the Global South movement, which took two branches in the road in 2006, can be reunited and reconstituted. Certainly our orthodox convictions regarding the inheritance of faith are compatible, despite varying evangelical, catholic and charismatic traditions. We also have a passion for full-blooded mission, including the elements enumerated in section 2 of the RCD. There are true bonds of affection that have grown up over these years among the Global South churches and also with many of their partners in the West, including the emerging Anglican Church in North America.

So my immediate sadness over the failure of the Covenant in Jamaica has been replaced with a new hopefulness for the Anglican Communion –for a faithful koinonia of mutually accountable partners – and for the Covenant – one that can bind us together in love. The Anglican Communion Covenant is dead. Long live the Covenant!

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